Where are the Jonathan Ives of lighting?

From the editor, Ray Molony

LEDs would liberate us, they said. LEDs would create new form factors, they said. LEDs would take lighting out of the ceiling, they said. LEDs would give us light instead of luminaires, they said. LEDs would make fittings as slim as iPads, they said.

‘They’ are looking increasingly wrong. Or at the very least, given to hyperbole. When you look around, LEDs are very much in the ceiling. And they look like what’s always been in the ceiling. The first wave of LED products were downlights, now it’s recessed modulars. Jeez, we even have LED lamps that mimic the footprint of 2D lamps.

It’s no better in the exterior sector. The designs for street and exterior luminaires have largely been dictated by Victorian technologies. The reason a lot of ‘heritage’ street lamps have a conical upper housing is because that was the chimney for the oil lamp, or later, the holder for carbon arc lamp. Yet we are still making these babies today. Why have we, like the Amish, decided to stop the clock at some perceived golden age? Was 1901 the pinnacle of British engineering achievement? No, don’t answer that.

We are letting nineteenth century sensibilities and the perceived conservatism of our clients restrict our designs. This happened 120 years ago when electricity firms made their products look like the previous generation of products. And why the new motor cars of the period looked like horseless carriages.

Of course manufacturers would argue that we follow form factors that were set by traditional light sources such as low voltage halogen and fluorescent ‘because, boss, that’s what the market is used to’. I bet Apple’s chief designer Jonathan Ive didn’t say that to Steve Jobs often.

Yet we have all this cool new technology: variable optics, intelligent drivers, new methods of cooling, amazing materials, computer simulation software. Why are these not being embraced with enthusiasm? Where are the guys who will rethink our lamps and luminaires in a solid state age?

To kick-start a new wave of design, Lux is holding a special two-day conference on the future of lighting fixture design.

The conference – in London on 29 and 30 May – will pool our knowledge on the best design, the latest technologies and changes in standards and testing.

Let’s hope it helps create a generation of Jonathan Ives for the lighting industry.

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